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| May 8-14, 2008 firstname.lastname@example.orgWhere everybody knows your name
Local musician Jon Henderson leaves a powerful legacy
by Gene Ira Katz
Jon Henderson loved Conor O’Neills. He drank there. He played music there. And he made a lot of friends. As Jon’s brother David says, “That was his Cheers.”
Jon moved to Boulder nine years ago, shortly after he was diagnosed with cancer. The doctors gave him six months to live at that time, but Jon had never been too good about following orders. He was an artist and an optimist, and he was determined to live by his own rules. For almost a decade, he proved the medical world wrong and earned a loyal group of supporters along the way.
During his last visit to Conor O’Neills, Jon finished his final beer, said goodbye to friends and walked out to the parking lot. Minutes later, he had a seizure and slipped into a coma. The paramedics and police rushed to the scene, but they could not revive him. Jon Henderson passed away on Thursday, April 24. He was just 49 years old.
It was a sad conclusion to an inspirational story, but perhaps an appropriate one. “All of his community came out of Conor’s,” says David. “If you would have said, ‘Jon, write the script for the ending,’ that would have been right about where he would have written it.”
Fittingly, there is a celebration of Jon’s life scheduled for Saturday, May 31, at Conor O’Neills, featuring a number of local bands and including a fund-raiser for the Rocky Mountain Cancer Center Foundation (RMCCF). Folks from all over the country are expected to come, even with other memorial events on Jon’s behalf set for Atlanta and San Diego.
Many people knew Jon as a local musician and businessman, but few are aware that he left behind a promising career in television and marketing in Atlanta when he relocated to Boulder so that his family could help him with his fight against cancer. His father, David Sr., was a media pioneer who started out working for Westinghouse Broadcasting, handling talent, producing shows, and eventually winding up as president of a station group. He also helped build Outlet Broadcasting into one of the top media companies in the country.
“Our father was a very skilled, well-respected executive in the field,” explains Jon’s brother. “Growing up as kids, we had a great time. We could go down to the TV station and hang out, and we were on some shows in the early ’60s. Later on he got into the production business, and we’d watch them do the Mike Douglas Show and the David Frost Show. That’s how Jon kind of got into TV.”
Jon first worked at a station while he was still in high school in Providence, R.I., producing TV shows and commercials, then he went on to get a degree in communications at San Diego State, graduating in 1981. After that, he went up to Los Angeles and worked for Norman Lear on Archie Bunker’s Place. “He wanted to be a writer and producer of TV shows,” recalls David. “He was trying to sell program ideas to the networks. Then after about five years, he kind of got burned out on that business, which is very cut-throat and competitive in L.A.” When his dad opened a new station in Atlanta, Jon relocated there to run sales promotion for WATL for a couple of years before starting his own unique media marketing company, Henderson-Shapiro. “That’s what he was doing full time up until 1999 when we discovered, very shockingly, that he had colon cancer.”
“He was an extremely intuitive businessman, and a very charismatic kind of guy,” says Jon’s business partner Debbi Shapiro. “He could walk into a room and completely command the attention of everyone there. He was invincible. Probably people in Boulder didn’t see this side of Jon, because he was already sick when he moved there.”
Henderson-Shapiro provided promotions, marketing and media consulting for a wide variety of clients, such as Six Flags, Marriott, the Falcons, the Braves and numerous hospitality firms. But Shapiro points to the 1996 Olympics as a major highlight, when they were tapped by Atlanta-based Coca-Cola to handle promotions for the Olympic City.
Starting in 1993 with just the two of them, the company currently employs a staff of 23.
“I think they should know that Jon was a make-it-happen type of guy,” says Shapiro. “He was also hilarious. He had a great sense of humor. I’ll definitely miss that. I’m carrying on this legacy that he left. This company we started 15 years ago, it’s still here, and we’re supporting 23 families.”
Bridget Fisher, who manages Conor O’Neill’s remembers Jon showing up shortly after the pub first opened. “He was funny,” she says. “Very sarcastic.” Over time Jon established himself as a fixture at Conor’s, handling all the music booking, as well as promotional events like the St. Patrick’s Day festivities. He even helped with a marketing plan when the bar decided to expand to other locations. Jon also began holding annual Beating Cancer benefits, raising thousands of dollars over the past four years. “He was such an inspiration to me, and I think to anyone who has known him. A lot of people, when they’re diagnosed with cancer, they just sort of give up. But he fought it out, he kept going to treatment, and in the process, did all these events to raise money for the RMCCF. And he always supported local music — just truly unbelievable. He said, ‘I’m going to live to the fullest. I’m not going to let it get me down.’”
His oncologist for eight years, Dr. Allen Cohn, concurs. “Jon was a true inspiration on how to live with cancer. He lived his life to the fullest, and he didn’t let his treatments or his predicament really affect his life. He knew he had to go on with the cancer and deal with it.” Cohn also points out that Jon participated in numerous research trials to find new treatments for cancer. “He was very supportive of clinical research. He was a big advocate for that. I think the reason he did as well for as long as he did with his cancer was because of his participation in clinical trials.” The doctor also mentions Jon’s documentary project, The Big C, designed to help people who need to navigate their battle with cancer. “We’re going to work with his brother and his family to help get that out because it will help a lot of patients with their cancer experience. But also, it’ll be a true legacy for Jon, and I think he would have wanted it that way.” Cohn adds, “I miss him as a patient, but I certainly miss him as a friend, as well.”
David says The Big C project was close to his brother’s heart. “He got the bug to do a cancer project. He wanted to work on something that would leverage all his skills in producing, music, film, performing and songwriting. He wanted to leave a legacy to help other cancer victims who were suffering the same fate that he went through… all the personal and family issues that come up when you’re dealing with chemo, and how that’s going to change your lifestyle.” Jon spent a year on The Big C, pulling in a lot of Boulder recording people to work on it. After completing the production, he was in the process of trying to develop widespread marketing of the DVD, which is currently available on the Internet. “There were many projects that he was working at the time of his death,” says David, counting a film and a plan to build an analog recording studio, among others. “We’d like to try to continue as many of them as possible.”
One thing that surely will continue is the annual Beating Cancer fundraiser in July. Conor O’Neill’s is committed to it, as well as so many others who knew Jon. “The last nine years were really the best years of his life,” remarks David. “And he had cancer during those years. The relationships he had touched people’s lives and emotions. He inspired a lot of people.”
On the Bill:
A memorial event for Jon Henderson will be held on Saturday, May 31, all day long at Conor O’Neill’s, 1922 13th St., Boulder, 303-449-1922, featuring live music from local bands, including the Henderson Brothers.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made in Jon’s name to the RMCCF, www.rmccf.org
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